Mules and horses navigated the steep trails of the Sierra Nevada for early Euro-American explorers, supported the US Army's efforts to subdue the American Indians, and carried miners' supplies into the mountains. Ranchers hired packers when they moved their cattle to graze in the Cascade Valley and along the Middle Fork San Joaquin, and government agencies hired them to repair roads, build fire lookouts, stock trout into streams and creeks, and shuttle supplies for backcountry geologic surveys.
Eventually it was tourists who provided the primary clientele for Sierra Packers. Pack trips enabled people to cover long distances and experience the backcountry in relative comfort, gaining popularity in the first half of the 1900s. The Sierra Club had annual month-long pack trips with 100 mules for their 200 participants, but as use grew, so did concerns about the environmental impacts of packing.
Starting in the 1920s, the US Forest Service and National Park Service were regulating the use of pack stock in the backcountry, and in 1936 wildlife technician E. Lowell Sumner warned that "unless active protection measures are taken now, the chance that these meadows will recover completely is slight." In 1941 a Sierra Club committee began providing instructions and maps for packers, and limiting the use of certain fragile areas. These were accepted and followed by some, while others continued to bring large parties to scenic spots and leave behind trash, fire pits, shelters, and trampled vegetation. The High Sierra Packers Association drew up a "packer's code" in 1948 in order to help preserve the wilderness character of the land, on which they relied so heavily.
The wilderness character of the landscape was a resource that the packers' livelihoods depended on, and many members opposed plans for a trans-Sierra highway. Throughout the Ansel Adams Wilderness designation from the late 1950s to 1984, a coalition of local packers, business owners, and conservationists secured an important victory when they persuaded then-governor Ronald Reagan to halt a proposed trans-Sierra highway.
Today, the packing tradition continues at both commercial pack stations in the Sierra and with federal agencies. The National Forest Service and the National Park Service both rely on pack stock to supply back-country camps and trail crews, to complete trail work in wilderness, and to pack in employees and supplies. The Inyo National Forest is home to one of the US Forest Service's Pack Stock Centers for Excellence, which teaches traditional wilderness pack skills and serves as a valuable resource for forests throughout the west. National parks in the Sierra including Devils Postpile rely on pack stock and Park Service packers to assist with trail work, rescues, and other needs in remote locations. See our current stock regulations for recreational use of stock in the monument.